Is the DEA Branching Out Into Regulating Medicine?

September 23, 2019 10:22AM

By Jeffrey A. Singer

The Drug Enforcement Administration, having virtually eliminated the diversion of prescription pain relievers into the underground market for nonmedical users, appears to be setting its sights on regulating the medical management of pain, a mission not suited for law enforcement. Acting under the authority of the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act (SUPPORT Act), the DEA 

The September 12, 2019 new quota 

As a result of considering the extent of diversion, DEA notes that the quantity of FDA-approved drug products that correlate to controlled substances in 2018 represents 

The ostensible purpose of the production quotas is to reduce the amount of prescription opioids that get diverted into the underground market. As has been clearly 

Overdose deaths soared while prescription volume dropped

Set aside the evidence that reducing the amount of prescription opioids available for diversion helped drive up the overdose rate by driving nonmedical users to more dangerous substances. With the DEA telling us that less than 1 percent of prescription opioids are currently diverted into the black market, why is it necessary for the DEA to tighten quotas even further?

Aside from the apparent desire of law enforcement to regulate the practice of medicine, there can be no justification for the continued reduction in opioid manufacturing –unless it is based upon the belief that the prescription opioids are producing all of the heroin and fentanyl addicts by “hooking” patients on opioids.

Such a belief ignores the evidence. According to data from the CDC and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health there is multiple other drugs—cocaine being the drug 66 percent of the time.Also notable is that 78 percent reported previous treatment for substance use disorder.

The continued clampdown by the DEA also shows a complete lack of understanding about the nature of 

Highly rigorous and respected 

The DEA is tasked with the impossible assignment of determining just how many opioids, of all types, are needed to treat pain or provide anesthesia to roughly 325 million Americans in any given year, and to apportion specific production quotas to individual manufacturers. As the central planners of the former Soviet Union—and the countless Russians who stood in long queues to buy necessities—would attest, it is impossible to plan how much of any product consumers need in a given year, let alone predict needs in the future.


A strong case can be made that the clampdown on prescription opioids has only served to drive up the overdose rate among nonmedical users while inflicting unintended harm on patients. The management of acute and chronic pain—as well as substance use disorder—is not in law enforcement’s wheelhouse. If relaxing the quotas is not in the cards politically, then the least the DEA can do is to stop making matters worse.


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